How to Make Your Online Classroom Interesting for Students
When I first ventured into online teaching, I was skeptical about the idea and feared that it would flop due to my lack of experience. But I knew that my students were comfortable learning over the internet and I wanted to use it for their benefit.
This article is for tutors teaching 10-15 year olds on how to make online learning an interesting experience for their students.
What should you learn first?
The first goal in an online classroom is to gain your student’s attention and keep them engaged, which is always a daunting task for most teachers. It gets particularly tougher when you’re teaching ESL to a class of 13-14 year olds.
But don’t fret. The internet has equipped us with the right tools to make our work easy. I’ll get to that in a few minutes.
Once you’re through with the technicalities of finding a right platform and setting up an online classroom, you need to design your course materials in such a way that it’s both purposeful and interesting for the students.
This will require some extra effort from your side to know what your students are engaging with on social media, or what they’re reading about on the internet. It’s very useful to know what’s trending in the music world and what TV series they follow, etc.
This groundwork helps you connect with your students and using these references occasionally in the classroom (through memes or examples) makes it easy for them to relate to and remember the concepts. Students always react positively to someone who can understand them, so first learn what they like.
Preparing new course materials
The Internet has given people easy access to vast amounts of information that’s out there waiting to be explored. Make a list of reputable websites relevant to your course and browse through them regularly for any new material that would benefit your students.
While preparing the study materials, consider the following points:
Know your audience
Before starting an online course, it’s better to know your students by name. Arrange a get-together a week before the class and interact with each student to know about their background and interests.
If a meeting is not possible, have an online group session to interact with them. This way, you’ll understand the students taking the course and set the learning objectives before devising each lesson plan.
Make emotionally satisfying content for students
Students react better when the concepts are explained through examples that they can connect with emotionally. Inserting these small memorable moments makes it easier for them to recall and remember hard concepts.
Example: Almost all of my ESL students are soccer fans who follow European football. So for explaining grammar concepts, I incorporate moments from big matches that happen over the weekends into my notes.
Add fun graphical elements
It’s almost boring to have to scroll through slides of plain text over and over again for the entire duration of the class. Here’s where you should introduce something fun, like .gif images, memes, or a short 1-minute clipping from some movie, etc. And when the students are practicing solving questions, you can use fun timers to set the countdown.
Example: To teach intonation to my students, I used a classic conversation clipping from The Big Bang Theory between Leonard and Sheldon about the ‘6th noble gas’.
Memorizing concepts using flashcards and games
Flashcards have proven to be a very useful tool for helping students to memorize and remember what they study. In an online environment, there are additional features that have made traditional flashcards even more useful.
Example: I make flashcards using Cram to add audio clips to each card with the correct pronunciation, add images, and play inbuilt memory games for each set of flashcards that I create.
Have interactive weekly quizzes
The second goal in an online class is to get your students to take a test while you remotely monitor it from your desk. To make this interesting and to keep the students hooked, you can use fun quizzes, where they get to play a game while answering the questions.
Having a weekly quiz helps students constantly revise, and keep the lessons in line which is extremely important for ESL students. Turning a quiz into a game makes learning easy and exciting for young learners.
Motivate students with rewards
Students like to be rewarded for their consistency and hard work, and such motivation drives them to perform even better the next time around. Having an evaluation twice every month keeps the students on their toes and drives a healthy competition.
Example: I maintain an online leaderboard of the top 5 performers after every quiz and the points are visible on the side screen during the lectures. This motivates my students to perform well in the tests and complete their homework on time.
Share useful resources
The third goal in an online class is to make sure that your students are regularly reading up. To monitor this, you should share relevant links in the middle of the lecture so that they could read them simultaneously. Make a list of such page links before starting your class.
Example: ESL students need to read a lot to practice what they learn. I often share references of interesting topics (like A Tale of Two Cities, etc.) where my students regularly practice reading paragraphs from articles and papers on those topics.
Explore and exploit Gmail features
Students love it when they are provided with ways to make learning easy. Google offers you free tools that are more than enough to assist you in your online endeavors. Here are some tips to easily manage your class using Google:
- Ask your students to create a fresh Gmail ID exclusively for the class
- Use the Google Drive to upload recorded lectures and notes and share them with your students for reference
- Use Google Hangouts to give individual private feedback and chat with your students about their problems
- Create copies of test papers, one for each student and share it individually with them to prevent overlapping during a test
- Use Google Sheets to track the daily progress, attendance sheets, mark sheets, etc.
- Use the calendar to mark important test and assignment dates and set reminders for students
- Have group chats with students about their weekly experience and on how to further improve your course materials
Online classrooms are highly beneficial as they’re easily accessible and give students the opportunity to revise whenever they want to. As a teacher, make it an enjoyable learning experience for them.
Ethan Miller is a private ESL tutor, and, apart from his passion for teaching, he loves to write. When he is not teaching or writing his book, Ethan loves to blog and is a huge fan of educational technology. Follow Ethan on Twitter, and his blog.